Grace, Works, Faithfulness, and Jesus

Grace, Works, Faithfulness, and Jesus February 26, 2020

Jesus obeys, therefore God highly exalted him. This is what Paul says in Philippians 2:6-11. How does this relate to his frequent assertions that God accepts human beings on the basis of grace and not works? Does it lend support to the interpretation that Paul’s focus is not in fact good works or obedience as Luther thought, but “works of the Law” in the sense of the specific requirements that separate Jews from Gentiles, such as circumcision, kosher food laws, and Sabbath observance? Might it even be that Jesus’ own case contributed to Paul’s reasoning about and formulation of his position on what saves – faithfulness like that of Jesus, rather than being part of the Jewish people? If so, this would have relevance not only to our understanding of “works” in Paul, but also the “faith(fulness) of Jesus” and Christology.

In light of this, how might we render Galatians 3:26? We could understand it to be saying that “through faithfulness,  you are all children of God in Christ” (or perhaps, not only depending where one places a comma, but also how one views certain technical phrases of Paul’s, “you are all in Christ, [and thus] children of God, through faithfulness.” There is no need to decide whether that faithfulness is Jesus’ or that of his followers to whom Paul is writing. For Paul, it may have been both: Jesus’ faithfulness creates the new covenant opening the door to welcoming in Gentiles, and those Gentiles enter by believing that God has accepted Jesus’ faithfulness and by offering themselves to God in faithfulness like that of Jesus.

What do you think? Does this understanding of what Paul wrote fit?

Elsewhere on related topics:

Works of the Law in the Second Century

“Justification” in Second-Century Christian Texts

Michael Gorman’s Participationist Theology

AJR on The Origins of Midrash

Faith and Works

What Kind of Jew was Paul?

See also Dale Tuggy’s discussion of Jesus’ obedience and exaltation, with particular focus on Hebrews but also mentioning Paul’s letters in places. Also related is Jim Wallis’ podcast “What About Jesus?”

 

 

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